Is There a Link Between Headaches and Gallbladder Problems?
Practitioners of Eastern medicine see a clear connection between headaches and gallbladder problems. One study indicates that idea may be correct.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD
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Ask a doctor if she thinks that there is a connection between getting headaches and gallbladder problems, and you’ll likely hear, “There isn’t much of a link.”
Headaches are usually not listed as a symptom of gallbladder problems, nor does a connection between the two appear to be a popular research topic, judging by the lack of such articles in medical research databases.
But ask someone who practices Eastern medicine, a practitioner who looks at the body in a different way, and you’ll get a much different answer.
Eastern medicine practitioners recognize the "gallbladder headache," and believe that gallbladder problems can be related to certain headaches.
The Gallbladder Meridian
In Eastern medicine, all of your internal organs — your gallbladder, your liver, your kidneys, and so on — are thought to be connected to channels inside your body known as meridians. And the gallbladder meridian runs along the side of the head.
According to David Canzone, doctor of oriental medicine, and an acupuncturist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the gallbladder "is an organ that functions in a system, [and the] meridians are seen as an outlet for the energy of these organs.”
Canzone says these meridians are similar to what Western practitioners call neuropathways. "So if you have gallbladder problems, an energetic blockage, it’s going to show up in the corresponding neuropathway, or meridian," he says.
With acupuncture, "you can release the built up tension in the gallbladder meridian," says Canzone. "If you can relieve that tension, you can relieve that headache."
Can Acupuncture Cure a Headache or Migraine?
Headaches and migraines can be treated with acupuncture when patients seek alternative medical treatment. During acupuncture, needles are inserted into the skin along meridian pathways in an effort to release blocked energy and restore balance.
A clinical trial published in April 2019 in the journalJAMA Internal Medicine found that acupuncture significantly reduced the frequency of migraines. The study consisted of 249 participants between 18 and 65 years old who experienced migraines without aura two to eight times per month. Participants used diaries to record the day the migraine occurred, the severity of their migraines, and any medication intake over a four week period. One-third of the participants were given 20 acupuncture sessions and their results were compared with those from a sham acupuncture control group and a waitlist of equal size. The participants who received true acupuncture reported less painful and less frequent migraines compared with the waitlist and sham acupuncture groups.
“In this study they targeted some of the points along the gallbladder pathway,” Canzone says. “Simple headaches are also treated using the same acupressure points.”
How Do I know if My Gallbladder Is Out of Whack?
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of gallbladder complications include:
- Sudden pain in the upper right or center of the abdomen
- Sudden pain between your shoulder blades or in your right shoulder
- Nausea or vomiting
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes
- High fever
Canzone finds that the most common symptom of gallbladder problems is pain in the upper back, where the gallbladder meridian crosses through the area between the neck and the shoulder. "If you have something going on in that nerve pathway and you have muscle tension in that part of the neck and shoulder, you could see that as the cause of a headache," he says.
But he also says that people can have gallstones (a buildup of bile in the gallbladder) and never experience headaches, while others with gallstones develop gallbladder-related headaches.
Negative emotions, alcohol, and other abused substances can heat up the liver, and since the liver is in line with the head and the eyes, heat can travel from the gallbladder up its meridian pathway, causing a headache.
When and Where to Seek Treatment
If you’re having sudden, severe, or persistent headaches, your first line of defense should be to contact your primary doctor. In some cases, headaches can be symptoms of serious conditions that require medical treatment.
Similarly, if you are having symptoms of gallbladder problems, such as severe pain in the right side of your abdomen or pain in your upper back, schedule a check-up with your medical practitioner to rule out serious problems and get treatment, if necessary.
If your headaches are ongoing and your doctor has ruled out other medical problems, a licensed acupuncturist may help to relieve your pain.
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